Legality Issues: A Senator Reads 'Green Eggs & Ham' On The Floor
You may have heard that Senator Ted Cruz spent a fair bit of time on the Senate Floor doing an old fashioned filibuster. Of course, what seems to be drawing almost more attention than the thing he was filibustering about was... the fact that, as part of that, he read aloud the classic Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham (though many people pointed out that he appeared to totally misunderstand the meaning of that book).
But more interesting from our standpoint are the copyright questions this raises. Some even pondered if his reading the book on the Senate floor would impact the public domain status of the book. The answer to that is no, though some other questions may be a bit more obscure. I've emailed some copyright lawyers for their take on the question, but we might as well discuss them here in the comments. The book is clearly covered by copyright. Cruz's reading of it is likely protected by the speech or debate clause, and even potentially a fair use claim. The bigger question is about everyone else who's showing it. Are TV news programs who show it violating the copyright? It may depend very much on how they present it, and it seems likely that many would have a very strong fair use claim -- it's newsworthy (in some sense), it's unlikely to negatively impact the work, etc. Of course, if a TV program decided to use it, instead, as a "storytime hour with Senator Ted Cruz" in which he reads the book to entertain children... there might be some copyright questions raised. Still, it's worth noting that the owner of the copyright, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, has a history of going legal over pretty clear fair use claims.
Still, there is a larger point in all of this: this is yet another example of a politician realizing that there's benefit in being able to use copyright covered material for his personal benefit, without the permission of the copyright holder. This is why fair use is important, and why attempts to limit it are so problematic. While I've never seen Senator Cruz involved in any copyright debates, but it will be interesting to see, should copyright reform issues ever finally reach the Senate floor, if he's willing to stand up for expanded fair use, based on his own recognition of the value of being able to, say, read an entire book to try to make a point.
Permalink | Comments | Email This Story